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The Yes! Organic Market on Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Fairlawn is closing today and will reopen as a conventional grocery store by Dec. 22.
Yes! owner Gary Cha announced last month that he’d be closing the store in December after more than two years of heavy losses. Then, last week, he changed course and said he’d keep the store open under a new name, Healthy Gourmet Market.
Now he tells me the Yes! is closing today and reopening on or before Dec. 22. He’s found a new supplier of nonorganic products, a move he hopes will bring down prices and persuade neighbors that the store isn’t beyond their budgets. He’s waiting for approval from the landlord for the name change, though he expects it won’t be a problem.
“It’s not going to be an organic store at all,” says Cha. “I think we can still accomplish our mission of bringing in a healthy alternative by providing lots of fresh produce and fresh meat. One of the stores that used to be there, the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket, just closed, so there’s even less choice. So we want to make sure that residents have access to fresh goods.”
Cha says the building’s owner, developer Tim Chapman, was responsible for persuading him to change his mind and keep the store open, despite the fact that he’d lost a million dollars on it. The city government, which provided a $900,000 grant to help him open the store in 2010, wasn’t involved this time around, he says.
“The city wasn’t involved other than the initial opening,” Cha says. “But the building owner, Tim Chapman, is a very smart guy. He’s very full of good ideas and very creative, and he suggested that why don’t we try that.”
When the news came out that Cha was keeping the store open under a new name, I expressed skepticism that the move would address either of the store’s main problems: its difficult-to-access location and the perception of high prices. The location issue won’t change anytime soon, though Cha says he’s still hoping that it won’t be long before the city acts on its plan to revamp a nearby intersection.
As for the name, if the goal is appearing more affordable, doesn’t “Healthy Gourmet Market” didn’t sound a bit, well, gourmet?
“We don’t want it to look like it’s a dollar store or a budget store,” Cha says.
The store already had lower prices (and a lower profit margin) than Cha’s other Yes! stores across the city, and was actually cheaper than the downmarket Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket for quite a few products. Cha hopes that the move to conventional goods will further decrease prices and attract shoppers.
“The fact is, the people in wards 7 and 8 have a lower household income than other parts of the city,” he says. “Those are just the facts. And we still want to bring that same option they have elsewhere but just make it more affordable.”
Cha says he has not been approached about bringing his store to the now-vacant Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket site, though he’d entertain the idea if asked.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery